So, uncertain times continue… And if we think things are soon going to be better, we are probably not realistic. Uncertainty is the common condition of all mankind these days. Most perceive the ambiguity we face as a threat; and our natural reaction in the face of threats is “fight or flight.” Unfortunately, both of these are counterfeits of what we should actually do.
Knowing that these counterfeit behaviors are natural defaults, however, can be a great advantage to leaders, as we work with others. By recognizing that our people are becoming either increasingly contentious or are retreating into isolation, we can see these behaviors as a signal to intervene in positive ways.
When it’s clear that these counterfeits are emerging with those whom we lead, consider having a one-to-one or roundtable discussion of the following strategies:
1 – Instead of resisting our uncertainties through violence or silence (another version of fight or flight), leaders should suggest that we should practice acceptance. Author Christine Carter has recently written that “acceptance is about meeting life where it is and moving forward from there.” The Serenity Prayer often shared by Alcoholics Anonymous provides additional illumination here: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
2 – Encourage your people to invest time and energy in staying physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Help them recognize that they must take care of themselves if they are to work through these challenging times. While that necessarily includes the wearing of masks and social distancing for the time being, more fundamentally it means that we should encourage them to get adequate exercise, rest, nutrition, and wholesome recreation.
With regard to this last item, I love the root of the word “recreation.” Re-create is an exceptionally important concept in these stressful times. We should each ask ourselves: “How do I best re-create myself when I’m tired, overwhelmed, or sad?” When those answers emerge, we as leaders should strive to facilitate those activities to the best of our ability to do so!
3 – Initiate discussion addressing the fears of your people, while making sure to work with them to discover optimistic scenarios that look beyond the stresses of the current situation. Of course, consideration of worst-case possibilities often leads to disaster mitigation, but active imagination of best-case scenarios can be the launchpad for future success.
4 – Suggest that we should strive to “stay in the present,” to control that which is immediately in front of us, rather than worry about what might happen. Fears of the future can calcify us in place, often fulfilling our worst fears. Help your people understand that they are not powerless in spite of our uncertain times. Be emphatic and confident that they are capable of solving their own problems. While you may offer them your support, recognize that rescuing them may well prove to enable their feelings of powerlessness, rather than save them from their angst.
5 – Encourage your people to find meaning in the chaos we face. How can they become even more significant in their service to others? How can they increase their contribution to the value proposition of your organization?
6 – Refocus their attention from their personal stresses to those of others. This type of outward focus has not only been the source of great compassionate service; it has also provided the seeds of new and exciting business ventures!
Like our people, we as leaders prefer days of low stress, little ambiguity, and continual sunshine. However, much as muscle is strengthened far more from resistance than complacency, we are tested, tried, and proven by hard times. Today is most certainly a proving ground for each of us. It is also an extraordinary opportunity to lead effectively!
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.